REVIEW: "1940'S Radio Hour" — Rose Center Theater

“1940s Radio Hour is a hit in any decade!”

If you’re searching for a slice of holiday entertainment that’s sweet as a Christmas cookie, smooth as a glass of eggnog and nutty as a proverbial fruitcake, the “1940s Radio Hour,” currently being performed at Rose Center Theater in Westminster, is colorfully packaged and ready to regale you on their final three days of performance, December 17th, 18th & 19th.

Come with us back in time, before radio became television. Set against the backdrop of World War II, “1940's Radio Hour” is a musical written by Walton Jones that follows a group of radio artists at Christmas as they attempt to make it big on the "Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade."

Follow along as harried producer/announcer Clifton Feddington marshals the cast, which is led by crooner Johnny Cantone, a Sinatra clone who dates veteran diva, Ann Collier. The “1940’s Radio Hour” isn’t a war relic, however. It opened in 1980, winning a Theatre World Award that year, and it was nominated for six Drama Desk honors.

It’s a snowy night, December 21st, 1942, and the clock is counting down for a little New York City radio station called WOV to record an hourlong broadcast for American soldiers serving overseas at the waning Hotel Astor in Manhattan, the station’s last show before Christmas.

The narrative concerns the harassed producer, the drunken lead singer, the second banana who dreams of singing a ballad, an assortment of young wannabe’s, and the young trombone player who chooses a fighter plane over Glenn Miller. There is no single story, but rather, a potpourri of radio spots, giving us glimpses into the lives of the people involved with the radio program — mostly through singing, dancing, comedy bits, wartime patriotic salutes, amusing commercials for real 1940s products like Cashmere Bouquet toilet soap and Sal Hepatica laxative, and even an abbreviated “Christmas Carol” radio drama.

The charismatic emcee Clifton A. Feddington (played by Vincent Aniceto; “The King and I”) and his partner Saul Lebowitz (who is only named in the script) have been producing “The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade” for six years, one year with WOV Radio. Mr. Aniceto anchors the production, and you know he is in charge with his large presence and commanding voice.

A show within a show, this production is directed and musically directed by Tim Nelson, also playing piano, conducting the fictitious Zoot Doubleman Orchestra. The bandstand occupies the house right half of the stage, and, in the ultimate fourth wall break, live theater patrons (that would be us) are actually part of the show, with even a lighted “applause” sign to cue us when to clap.

In the process, the characters display their quirks. Station doorman Pops Bailey (delightfully played by Michael Cook; “R.I.P. Van Winkle!”), a crotchety, old-time radio guy who makes racing wagers on the station’s phone, begins the show as the radio actors arrive one by one, including young showbiz hopeful Winnie Ferguson (Rylie Herbel; “The Wizard of Oz”), begging for her first real, big break (a role normally played as delivery boy Wally Ferguson).